Book Review – A Study of Education, Inequality and Polarization in Pakistan

Author: Tariq Rahman Review By Naveed Hussain courtesy of Books & People by Daily Jang

'Haves' and 'have-nots' of education

Education is an important subject as it provides mental, physical, ideological and moral training to individuals, so as to enable them to have full consciousness of their purpose in life and prepare them to achieve that purpose. It not only helps in spiritual grooming of individuals but also caters for fulfilment of human material needs. Pathetically, this crucial subject has been neglected by successive governments in Pakistan since the country's inception.

Since the first meeting on education in December 1, 1947, every government in Pakistan set out to reform the education sector and set some ambitious targets, both qualitative and quantitative, but miserably failed to produce tangible results. Resultantly, students were deprived of their ethnic identities in the name of "promoting nationalism and discouraging ethnic division"; intolerance and militancy was inadvertently endorsed for the sake of "Islamising education"; and private education institutions were allowed to proliferate and multiply for "encouraging private sector and eliminating illiteracy". These policies formulated by successive autocratic and so-called democratic rulers were, in fact, aimed at perpetuating their rule, and resulted in polarisation of education along socio-economic lines.

Although we have a number of researches and a plethora of data available on the subject we have very few analytical and empirical studies in the field. Most of the researchers took a moralistic line that aimed at defending the government policies instead of suggesting ways for correcting the education system and raising its standard.

Denizens of Alien Worlds: A Study of Education, Inequality and Polarization in Pakistan, the book under review, is a unique effort by Tariq Rahman, a renowned educationist, to highlight inequality and polarisation of education along socio-economic lines in Pakistan. Mr. Rahman is a distinguished national professor of Linguistics and South Asian Studies at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He has M.A., M. Litt. and Ph.D degrees from British universities. Besides, he has published eighty research papers and nine books. One of his books, Language and Politics in Pakistan, has been given two awards by the Government of Pakistan.

In this book Mr. Rahman critically analyses the education policies formulated by the successive governments in Pakistan, beginning with the first meeting on education held in Karachi on November 27, 1947 until the Education Sector Reforms: Action Plan, 2001-04 chalked out by the President Musharraf-led regime. According to the author all these policies were aimed at and succeeded (if any success they met) in combating the threat of ethnicity; countering religious lobbies as rivals for power; safeguarding the privileged position of the Westernised elite; and creating a citizenry which would support the state policies and be trained to be employed in subordinate positions. Similarly, Mr. Rahman also evaluates the eight five-year plans and shows that although the plans did achieve some of the quantitative targets, as literacy rate has gone up from 16 per cent in 1951 to 56.6 per cent in 2003, the number of schools has shot up from 8,000 to 170,000, and enrolment in these schools from 0.77 million to 20 million, but their failures are too numerous to enumerate.

The Denizens of Alien World tells us not only about education system in Pakistan but also about the system of distribution of resources and power. Mr. Rahman says that after the inception of Pakistan our anglicised civil and military bureaucracy, who were educated in the English-medium schools and colleges, patronised the English-medium schools and subsidised education for the elite, which resulted in the proliferation of English-medium schools and subsequently in the polarisation of education along socio-economic lines. Today we have three streams of education - elitist English-medium schools, Urdu-medium schools and the madrassas - functioning parallel in the country. The children of "haves" get education in the elitist English-medium schools, the middle class join the Urdu-medium schools, while the "have nots" frequent the madrassas. Mr. Rahman contends that since fluency in English language is the guarantee of a brighter career in Pakistan, the students of English-medium elitist institutes easily find access to most lucrative jobs, while the students of Urdu-medium schools and madrassas, unable to compete with their counterparts in the English-medium schools, become clerks or semi-skilled labourers. Thus they perpetuate capitalism in its worst form, the lower by creating cheap labour and the upper by creating selfish consumers.

Mr. Rahman gives an in-depth study of the three streams of education and shows that every government in Pakistan spent more on the elitist education by establishing cadet colleges and subsidising education for the elite. Mr. Rahman's scrupulously carried out comparative study of government expenditures on these institutes shows that the government's spending on the elitist institutes is much bigger than the other two streams, which contradicts the assurance given in Pakistan's Constitution against discrimination among its citizens. Since the elitist English-medium schools, cadet colleges and private universities charge exorbitant tuition fees, the lower and lower-middle classes are unable to send their children to these institutes and thus remain deprived of "quality education" and the benefits it accrues.

Mr. Rahman's research also shows that the worldview of the students of these institutes also differs to a great extent. For example, he says, the madrassa students are more militant about Kashmir than their counterparts in the English-medium schools. Similarly, the madrassa students are more intolerant towards other minority groups in Pakistan than their counterparts in the English-medium schools. To augment his contention, the researcher gives the findings of a survey he conducted in selected schools and madrassas of the country.

Mr. Rahman attributes the difference in the worldview to the schooling of the students. He critically analyses the curricula of different seminaries, including that of Deobandi, Berelvi, Jama'at- e-Islami, Ahl-e-Hadith, Shia-run madrassas and the Dars-i-Nizami, etc, and reaches the conclusion that the madrassas textbooks promote intolerance, militancy, orthodoxy, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Besides, the media they are exposed to also endorses jingoistic and chauvinistic tendencies. Mr. Rahman's research shows that the students of English-medium schools and colleges are more tolerant, secular, liberal and broad-minded mainly because of their schooling and the type of media they are exposed to.

The most important thing about Mr. Rahman's study is that it not only points out the ills of our education system but also prescribes panacea for them. Mr. Rahman's suggests a few remedial measures for doing away with extremism and fundamentalism from the society and making the education system a just and egalitarian one. Mr. Rahman's measures include improvement in public sector education institutes to cut the power-base of both madrassas and elitist English-medium schools; elimination of English language from both state and private sector jobs within the country; stoppage of state's patronization of English-medium institutes; barring English-medium institutes from facilitating O' Level and A' Level exams; and finally banning elitist English-medium institutes altogether. But, Mr. Rahman opposes draconian measures, saying coercive methods could aggravate the situation instead of improving it.

Since the research was carried out after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent Western campaign to malign Muslims in general as terrorists and extremists, Mr. Rahman has successfully tried to trace out the breeding-grounds of extremist thoughts in the society. I think if followed in principle Mr. Rahman's measures can not only purge our education system of all its shortcomings, but also help materialise the dream of a true democratic, egalitarian, tolerant and liberal society in Pakistan. Its unique approach, simple and easy-to-understand language, meticulously collected data and authentic information make Denizens of Education a landmark work in the study of education system of Pakistan.

Denizens of Alien Worlds

A Study of Education, Inequality and Polarization in Pakistan

Written by: Tariq Rahman Published by: Oxford University Press Plot No. 38, Sector 15, Korangi Industrial Area, P.O. Box 8214, Karachi Price: Rs 325 Pp. 210




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Tariq Rahman
Oxford University Press
Price: Rs 325
Pp. 210


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